JOE BIDDLE: Vols on the outside looking in for NCAA bid

Tennessee basketball adds another graduate transfer (Image 1)

Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said the next 48 hours will be business as usual.

He may be in denial.

Before his team coughed up a 58-48 loss to Alabama, Martin's Vols were judged to be the last of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's last four in. He had them playing a play-in game to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. If that's not enough of a slippery slope, Lunardi brought more bad news.
Lunardi tweeted an update after the Vols were held to 48 points as their starting guards, Trae Golden and Jordan McRae, combined to miss 16 of their 20 shots from the field. Add senior wing Skylar McBee to the equation and the trio was an inexcusable 5 of 26, including 4 of 17 from the 3-point line.

They may well have shot themselves right into the NIT.

Lunardi tweeted after the game that he now has Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee as the last three of his first four teams out while his current tweet has Kentucky, Oregon State, La Salle and Middle Tennessee State as his last four teams in.

If so, the Vols only have themselves to blame. The two teams split two regular season games, each winning home court games.

At the Bridgestone Arena, Alabama suffocated Vols shooters in a quick as lightning zone defense much of the game. It held Vols sophomore center Jarnell Stokes to two rebounds in the first half and 12 points in the game.

“They did a pretty good job running the press and then getting back into zone,'' Stokes said. “I think anytime a team plays a zone, it's hard for the big man to score.''

While the Vols are hopeful of getting an at-large bid, Alabama still has work to do. Coach Anthony Grant would not address the question as to where he thinks his team stands, but Lunardi's latest bracket has the Crimson Tide the third of his first four teams out.

It seems they need to win the automatic bid by winning two more games in the SEC Tournament. That's the only sure thing they can bank on.

For Martin, the Vols will watch the NCAA Tournament draw in an undisclosed private location in Knoxville. It may be the longest 48 hours in Martin's life.

While Tennessee and Alabama looked like two bubble teams during much of the game, it was Alabama that took control during crunch time and don't think the NCAA Tournament Committee wasn't watching from Indianapolis.

The Vols' slow start to the season didn't work in their favor. Although they came on strong down the stretch by winning nine of their final 11 games, will it be judged too little, too late? Everyone has to wait 48 hours to learn the answer.

One thing working against the Vols is the fact the SEC has been one of the weakest conferences in the country this season. Florida is the lone gem, while the rest of the teams are Zirconia diamonds.

I think in the final analysis, the loss to Alabama will be the determining factor. Not that a team that lost to Mercer and Tulane in back-to-back games earlier in the season deserves a break from the NCAA Selection Committee, but Alabama showed against the Vols that they can win against tougher competition.

You ask Alabama Coach Anthony Grant to evaluate where his team stood after beating the Vols and he went straight to coach-speak.

“Don't take this the wrong way, but right now we're in the SEC Tournament. We play Florida (Saturday) for a chance to advance and play for a tournament championship. That's just where we are right now. That's all that really matters.''

Well, don't take this the wrong way, coach. But how in the world do you explain your team losing games to Mercer and Tulane?

Grant's team can earn its way in. Tennessee doesn't have that luxury. Their resume' is complete.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s